Behind the masks: Catchers critical to teams’ success

Their names do not usually make headlines, and they do not get credit for wins. In fact, they go completely unnoticed most of the time.

They are the ones behind the masks—the catchers for the Butler baseball and softball teams.

The baseball team has four players who have manned the position this season: seniors Nick Hladek and Brian Padove, junior Radley Haddad and sophomore Ryan Wojciechowski.

The softball team has used a rotation of three catchers: seniors Mallory Winters and Alyssa Coleman and freshman Maria Leichty.

The catching position is a unique one and has been argued to be one of the most vital across all sports.

“To me, catcher is one of the most important positions on the team,” Butler baseball coach Steve Farley said.  “Major league scouts say that the quickest way to get to the big leagues is to be a catcher—every team wants a solid player at that position.”

In Little League play, catcher is often one of the least-desired positions.

Winters, however, has been catching since she was 12 years old.

The best of the softball team’s catchers in fielding percentage, Winters started her softball career as a pitcher. She said she decided to try catching one day and “really liked it.”

Hladek also started catching at a young age.

“When you’re little, no one wants to catch because you’re getting beat up, and it’s hot in all the gear,” Hladek said. “I liked it because I got to be in on every play.”

Pitchers and catchers are the only players that touch the ball every single play, but softball coach Scott Hall said it requires an immense amount of focus.

“They’re the only player than can see everything that’s going on,” Hall said. “Everyone else has a sort of blind spot, so [catchers] have to know what’s going on.”

Catchers do not typically get the same kind of recognition that other players on the field do, but they say they are OK with that.

“I think of it as the middle-child syndrome,” Winters said. “You’re not the star. You’re overlooked in the family and on the field, but you have a duty—whether that is catering to the pitcher or getting yelled at for the day.”

Haddad, who leads the team in doubles and has the third-highest batting average among the Bulldogs, said that catchers are not supposed to be noticed.

“I was told once that if you’re a catcher and no one notices you, you did a great job,” Haddad said. “You’re just supposed to do the things you’re supposed to do, do them right, and you’ll do a good job.”

Senior pitcher Brad Schnitzer described catchers as field generals, while sophomore pitcher Leah Bry said she thinks of them as queens and kings of the field.

“You have to be a leader when you’re a catcher,” Bry said. “Everyone’s looking at the pitchers, but they’re really ruling what’s going on.”

Farley said that it takes a certain kind of person to be able to work with different pitchers and be the leader on the field.

“Each catcher has his own personality, and each guy needs to know how to push the buttons of the various pitchers they work with,” Farley said. “You have to know when to pat a pitcher on the back and when to kind of kick him in the butt.”

Catchers take a lot of blame for when things go wrong, whether they are actually at fault or not.

“We don’t expect a lot of high fives,” Coleman said. “Most of the time we’re getting yelled at, but it’s worth it knowing that we’re a part of it.”

Despite the negative aspects of the job, Butler’s catchers said they love what they do.

“It takes a lot to be a catcher,” Haddad said. “It’s tough. It’s mentally and physically taxing—you’re getting beat up back there. It’s a warrior position.

“It’s a beautiful thing to succeed, but I love knowing that, no matter what, I get to come back out and play again tomorrow.”

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